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"Global Swarming"

Hello fellow InterNations community members. Like many of you, I have lived and studied the challenges expats face in multinational enterprises (MNEs) for most of my career. Currently we in the School of Communications at the University of Hawaii are conduction a research project on a phenomenon we refer to as "Global Swarming." The project investigates the usefulness of a "self-organization/swarm intelligence model" of the strategies used in MNEs to get key tasks done effectively in overseas offices. Over the last half century MNEs have essentially "swarmed" the globe with regional and local offices in an attempt to benefit from expanded production or market opportunities or to meet international social or health needs. The number of such offices is enormous and rapidly expanding. For example, in Protected content were over six thousand local and regional offices of global organizations located in Hong Kong alone while large individual MNEs may have country or affiliate offices in over 80 nations with scores of local or branch offices in each. Recent work on "Swarm Intelligence" suggests that this phenomenon can usefully be viewed as significantly self-organizing swarms searching a "fitness landscape" for optimal solutions to challenges presented by new and rapidly changing organizational ecologies across the globe--ecologies typically characterized by cultural diversity, but also by a broad range of other social, physical/technological and biological factors. These challenges are associated with finding effective strategies for marketing, leadership, communication, staffing, screening and self-selection, training, succession planning, management style, organizational design, community or government relations, and so forth.

The "agents" within these swarms can be viewed at different levels of analysis ranging from the MNEs, themselves, to their regional and local offices, to the departments within these offices, to the more transitory teams completing the tasks necessary to get things done, to the myriad of personnel shunted about between these teams, departments, branch offices and often back to the home office. A "Swarm Intelligence" model suggests that optimization uses a process based on survival of the fittest. A swarm of agents evolve optimal solutions to problems as each agent compares its best previous practices and those of its neighbors. Swarms of agents converge on optimal solutions without any global evaluation of the progress made. It's a "bottom-up" or "evolutionary" process in which the best strategies emerge over time, rather than the more typical "rational" one in which these strategies are "figured out" and then implemented.

If you have been involved with strategy development in your organizational career and would like to contribute to our understanding of the processes involved, or if you would like further information about the swarm intelligence model, please visit our "Global Swarming" Web Page at Protected content . Included on our page is a short survey that asks for your input on the sources of information you have used in developing such strategies over your career. The online survey consists of 15 short questions (most requiring you simply to check one of a number of alternatives) and should take only a couple minutes to complete. We would be very appreciative of your assistance and will provide feedback to you here on the blog on the nature and implications of our findings once our study is completed.

Aloha, Gary Fontaine.

Emeritus Professor, School of Communications, University of Hawaii
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